Q&A: American McGee: The Movie

Disney is making three films based on the iconoclastic designer's unreleased game. McGee tells GameSpot what's up with Oz.

Last July, iconoclastic game designer American McGee revealed that überproducer Jerry Bruckheimer had optioned the film rights to his unreleased PC game, American McGee's Oz. However, the scale of Bruckheimer's project wasn't revealed until today, when the Hollywood Reporter revealed that an entire film trilogy is being based on Oz.

According to the Reporter, talent agency ICM brokered a deal between Walt Disney Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, and Carbon 6--McGee's "interactive entertainment" company. While no production start date has been set, two first-time screenwriters, Kevin and Dan Hageman, are attached to the project.

Much like 2000's American McGee's Alice, American McGee's Oz will be a dark reworking of a classic children's tale, which, in this case, is The Wizard of Oz. Other than its basic premise, which transforms Oz from a magical fairyland into a war-torn hellscape, little is known about the game other than the fact that it is officially due sometime this year for the PC and Xbox.

The only official glimpses of Oz thus far have been a handful of screenshots and action figures, including a sickle-wielding straw golem and a munchkin in industrial overalls. These promise a visual style as twisted as that of Alice, which presented a warped version of Alice in Wonderland. Luckily, McGee took some time out of his increasingly busy schedule to talk with GameSpot about Oz, Hollywood, and other fantastical realms.

GameSpot: Jerry Bruckheimer optioned the rights to Oz early last year. What was the big news today?

American McGee: The [Hollywood Reporter] article was focused on the fact that Bruckheimer and Disney have optioned the film, hired writers, and are in the process of developing the film. We, as a development company, are in the business of creating ideas and then exploiting them across a wide range of markets, while holding on to as much of the property as we can.

GS: It sounds like Oz is becoming a lot more than just a game.

AM: To date, we've developed the property across a wide range of markets. Series one of the toys have been at retail for the last year and have done very well. We're in the process of launching series two and three of the toys this year. The book is done, and as HR reported, we have a deal with Warner Books. The book should be released by Xmas of this year, but as usual, there's no promise that it will.

GS: That sounds like a bonanza, synergy-wise. But when is the game itself coming out?

AM: That's a little more complicated. We have a completed design, a running Xbox demo, and a lot of material to show but are still working on finding a publisher. For a while we put the publisher search on hold while we worked on getting the film set up. Now we're receiving interest from game publishers again and are working to get game development restarted.

GS: What's holding publishers back? You'd think they'd be eager to get in on anything Bruckheimer-related.

AM: Truth is that game publishers aren't buying original game ideas these days. They want either a sequel to an existing successful game or a piece of Hollywood IP (intellectual property) with someone else's marketing dollars behind it. "Presold awareness" as they call it. Personally, I think that's a nice euphemism for "We're publicly traded and only go after the safe bets." Our goal has been to skirt around that issue by getting our ideas made into films, toys, books, and other products and then going back to game publishers to get the game made. From what I can tell, it's the only way to get them to do an original idea these days.

GS: In a deal like this, do you remain on board in a significant way? Is it still "American McGee's Oz," or do you relinquish artistic control?

AM: Not sure what the film will ultimately be titled, but I do get to remain significantly involved with the project. More so than with the Alice film development process (which is still ongoing). I get some sort of "story by" credit as well as executive producer credit on Oz the movie.

GS: Does Carbon 6 have any other film deals in the works?

AM: For the next film idea that we're about to sell, I'm actually going to write the script. The plan is to slowly ratchet up my involvement--and skill--as each new property is developed. Ultimately, we hope to be a true hybrid game/film development company with me writing and directing the films and games.

GS: Bruckheimer's films are infamously pyrotechnic and over-the-top. What do you figure that means for the movie version of Oz?

AM: I think that means we're going to get a totally kick-ass trilogy of films!

GS: You've got a slew of fans who admire your work in games, but it's been over a year since Oz was announced. What have you been up to?

AM: As it is, I've been managing Oz, working on the next "twisted tale," doing consulting work for a number of publishers, and am in the process of designing a new game idea that's going to be financed, developed, and published by an overseas publisher. News on that will be released at E3. Oh yeah, and I'm directing music videos for Radical Media here in Los Angeles. There's more than that on my slate, but that's all I can talk about at this point. All in all, things are going great. However, I wish the current publishing environment was more conducive to me making original games.

GS: What's your estimate of when the first Oz film might be completed?

AM: Speaking generally here, one year for script development isn't unusual. Once the studio has something they like, they begin production--which can take as much as one year. So if things go exceptionally well, we could be looking at a film in as little as two years. But I think three is more realistic. Just keep thinking, "When it's done..."

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